When Ren & Stimpy resurfaced a year or two back on the Spike network with a set of brand new episodes, the Tabby cat and Chihuahua—whose relationship had remained so potently ambiguous for so long (part of the constraints of being a cartoon on, of all networks, Nickelodeon)—were depicted in bed together, fucking under the covers like hyenas. Fans of every stripe were shocked and disappointed in the face of the desecration—not because they couldn’t handle Ren and Stimpy being depicted as grotesque homosexual perverts (as opposed to grotesque heterosexual perverts), but because their relationship’s alternately teasing and touching ambiguity in classic episodes like “Stimpy’s First Fart” (where Stimpy’s trek to locate his lost flatulent offspring brings Ren to a nervous, heartsick breakdown) was about the only thing supplying the original series with any semblance of empathetic leeway. (Anyone who doesn’t get a tear in their eye when Stimpy licks his own hide clean in a scheme to earn money for his best pal Ren’s pectoral implants is someone with whom I don’t ever want to share a good cry.) Otherwise, the brainchild of the glorious hipster-sadist John Kricfalusi and his Spumco animation outfit was easily the most lewd, puerile, uncouth, and hilarious show of its era. Kricfalusi’s animated universe was a terrifying amalgam of a 1960s suburban strain of futurism (with Formica backgrounds drenched in space station parabolas and silver jacks) and hand-painted insert shots detailing the sweaty, hairy, blemish-covered horror that is living flesh. Ren, the selfish Chihuahua, was voiced by Kricfalusi as a Mexican Peter Lorre, while Billy West’s Stimpy, a retarded cat, was basically the Three Stooges’s Larry with rose-tinted glasses. And the two of them constituted the most well adjusted characters in view. Among the rogue’s gallery are the “No sir, I don’t like it” horse, who apparently holds petrified walruses hostage (“Call the police”), George Liquor (a midget Gen. Patton figure who follows his introduction with “American,” as though it’s his surname), and Ren’s long-lost Scandinavian (or is it German?) cousin Sven, who turns out to be a dead ringer for Stimpy, who suggests the two of them play a game of “swallow the sword” (hint, hint). Detractors accused the show of being nothing more than a willfully ugly and awkwardly paced tableau of strained mugging, but it seems clear that this was the point behind the entire enterprise: to push the limits of animated expression well past the homogenized limits of a still-staid cartoon universe. To this day, every vein that pops from Ren’s neck, every gob of hairball that explodes from Stimpy’s gullet, and every worn-out rubber nipple still sitting on display in Kricfalusi’s prototypal American living rooms represents a revolution against the opportunistic exploitation of animation and how often it is used to candy-coat and whitewash society’s notion of itself.
Ren & Stimpy featured some of the most deliberate drawings in the entire history of animated television (The Simpsons may have the writing and the voice talent, but put any one frame of Ren & Stimpy against any one frame from Fox's long-running opus, and I'd argue that the former wins every time). Paramount's transfers have vibrant colors, though the lines look a tad soft. There are also a few episodes where previously censored material, which has been reinstated, looks washed out and has timecode running along the top. The audio sounds pretty great, with each foreboding use of public domain library music from the '50s sounding creepy as ever.
The three disc set comes with six episodes fully equipped with audio commentary from Spumco folks, including the abrasive Kricfalusi (who sounds a lot closer to George Liquor, and thereby his own father, than he probably would like to admit), an incessantly guffawing Eddie Fitzgerald (who more or less lets us all know, without a doubt, that the show is funny), and a few others. Kricfalusi is refreshingly uninhibited on these tracks, and doesn't mince words when it comes to the battles he had with Nickelodeon censors, his gay friends who loved the chemistry between Ren and Stimpy, and how little he thinks of the corporate heads that dared try to stifle his creativity. (He'd be more insufferable if he wasn't right on each count.) Also included on the DVDs is the hysterical "banned" episode of the show, "Man's Best Friend," a psychological chamber drama showdown between George Liquor and his pets as he attempts to train them, howling "It's discipline that begets love!" There's also a solid chunk of behind-the-scenes material, including a brief featurette "In the Beginning," plenty of pencil tests, storyboards, and Spumco image galleries.
Even before they became explicitly gay sex-pigs, Ren & Stimpy were still the sickest little monkeys in cartoons.